This week’s Torah Reading, Parashat Shemini outlines the basic laws of keeping Jewish dietary laws, the laws of Kashrut. An animal is deemed Kosher if it has a split hoof and chews its cud. A fish is considered appropriate or fit to eat, ie- Kosher if it has scales and fins. Birds of prey are not allowed to be eaten. Bird fit to eat, or Kosher, must be domesticated birds which are not birds of prey. The Torah provides a list of animals which are deemed not it to be eaten, or not kosher – treif. Some of these animals which are listed by name, we do not actually even know what they are, because this week‘s Torah portion, is the only place that these animals are ever named. Certain animals are listed specifically as not being allowed to be eaten, which are identifiable, such as the pig.
What are the reasons behind the Jewish laws of eating Kosher, the dietary laws? As all those who have ever tried to be on any sort of diet or eating plan, it takes much discipline. Personally one of the only eating plans that I am able to fully follow, are the laws of Kashrut, perhaps because my entire life I have kept Kosher. It takes quite a bit of discipline for example to say I will never again eat any sugar, or only eat between the hours of 11 am and 6 pm, unless perhaps if it is for a medical condition.
Adhering to the laws of Kashrut, teaches us that we need to think about what we put into our mouths. We cannot just eat everything that we see- animals must be raised and fed in a certain way, and then slaughtered in a particular way, and then the food must be prepared in a particular manner in order to be appropriate for consumption. The laws in the Torah are very simplistic as to what is being said – we are not told how to raise the animals, how to slaughter them, or how to prepare them and how many hour
s to wait between eating meat and milk – none of these laws and customs are found in the Torah portion. That all comes later from Rabbinic traditions.
The laws of keeping Kosher teach us that we need to think before we put anything into our mouths. We are taught in Judaism that we need to thank God for our food, and therefore, we express our gratitude to God for our food by blessing our food before eating and expressing gratitude to God after we eat with the recitation of the Birkat HaMazon, Grace after Meals, after we eat.
There is no better place to practice the laws of Kashrut than in the State of Israel – where every type of cuisine can be found Kosher – even fake shrimp, or bacon. And not all food in Israel is Kosher, so when traveling in Israel, you do still need to check, if you want to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Some foods not hekshered – certified Kosher – outside of Israel – are able to Found Kosher in Israel – such as my son’s favorite – the Kosher McDonalds. I remember in the mid90s at least once a week my friend and I would venture to the Kosher Burger King in Jerusalem. But everyone has different taste buds – so take a culinary tour of Israel. Just because my daughter and I – and many people I know – think the best chocolate rugalech are at Marzipan – don’t take our word for it – try it ! Find for yourself the best falafel in each city ! And by the way – many places will give out samples! Sample the shwarma before you commit – but remember – if you keep Kosher – that sample makes you meat ! Try some hummus ! Have some hot pita ! Try some limonata! And of course – don’t forget your breakfast buffet ! Israel is the best place to eat ! Ask your ITC tour guide for suggestions! You will thank them ! And remember to thank God also – before and after you eat – even if you are not observant or religious – because eating in Israel – you are bound to be thankful! B’tayavon ! Bon apetit !